Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Socks Came Off, Today

Yep, I think it's official. With the shedding of winter coats and socks in favor of lighter-weight options, Winter 2009 has come to an end. Even though a few inches of snow is forcast for tonight and into the next few days, likely it will melt fast and leave behind a sound the likes of which has not been heard since last November: Running Water.

I woke up last night to it; the unmistakable sound of drips, drops, and pitter-patter of water flowing from the gutters and down the drainpipes to rest somewhere beneath the berms of snow still against my flowerbeds. Bear took off his warm coat today, put on his sunglasses and proclaimed "Look, it's summer over there!" (a swatch of grass was protruding on the other side of the road). Yep, I guess it's on it's way, all right, and we couldn't be happier.

This is Break-Up; the time of year when the gray-brown tinge that has been our view for so long becomes almost black with a layer of grime replacing the pristine whiteness of yards and roadways. Even the snow looks tired of winter; pitted against the trees, it is soft and spongy and provides little in the way of amusement for kids any longer.

Airplanes flying overhead from nearby Merrill Field don't all have skis on their landing gear, many are removing the fittings and putting back on the huge, round rubber tires suitable for gravel and grass landings this summer. The buzz of scooters and sports cars now free from winter storage is audible; as is the shouts from neighborhood kids, my own included, as they play out-of-doors after dinner in the lengthening daylight.

Ahhhh, it's here. If I could only unstick my picnic table from its frozen prison against my back fence, I'd whip up a crowberry cocktail and take full advantage of both sunlight and spring, sans mosquitoes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bear's Day of Truth

Surprised you, didn't I? Usually when I blog about someone's moment of truth, it is in regard to #1 son. Not this time. Yesterday was Bear's day.

We who live within the boundaries of the Anchorage School District are fortunate to have a plethora of choices when it comes to schools. "Open optional" programs, language immersion schools, Montessori, "back to basics" schools; the list goes on and on. When it came time to decide where our little Bear would begin his educational journey, it could have been difficult. Fortunately, it wasn't.

We made two choices, one for the neighborhood school, a fine option, and one for a German language-immersion school called the Rilke Schule. The lottery was held yesterday for Rilke, and Bear got in. I'll have to polish up my Deutsch-sprech'in then. The most comforting part is Rilke is K-8, which means I can alleviate my fears about Anchorage middle schools, none of which thrill me.

The absolute best, most positive part of the day? When accepting our lottery slot, the school secretary said "I need to remind you that since we are a Charter School, we do not have a full-time education specialist, so we must know ahead of time if your child has needs we need to meet."

I was happy to say "No".

I was just a little bit sad, too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Compass

I'm a mother who has a son with significant behavioral disabilities. I love him. But I do not always like him.

Wolf is hard to like. Socially strangled by his Asperger Syndrome, he is inappropriate, rude, and sometimes downright frightening in his behavior towards others. He is difficult to communicate with because all he wants to talk about are subjects of interest in Wolf's World, something most people tolerate upon first meeting him but after a while slowly retreat from. It's embarrassing and complicated to explain, and some days I get tired of trying it.

Listening to Wolf hem and haw and dodge and weave his way around any form of family therapy this morning, I was struck by a terrible thought: "I don't like you right now."

The ferocity by which my brain came up with this statement surprised and shocked me. What the heck kind of mother am I, to even think such a thing? Whoa. Here I was, tired beyond belief at 6 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, drinking coffee from the day before because I was too tired to grind fresh beans and make some in the camping coffee pot because we have been too lazy to buy ourselves a new coffee maker because.....because....because. And here is this teenage mutant ninja turtle on the other end of the phone filling my head with I dunno's and Whatevers and I Didn't Do Its. I wanted to disconnect the phone, I wanted to scream, but most of all, I wanted him to shut. up.

Some days are like this. I'm not perfect at this caregiving thing. I'm most of all not perfect at this parenting thing, but after 16 years of trying both, I've learned not to fight the feeling. Why? Sometimes our feelings are the only way we have of controlling the roller coaster lives we lead. The careful distinction between feelings and actions, however, is our sense of right and wrong, the moral compass that directs us North to Empathy and South to Compassion; East and West to Love and Sympathy. Some days that compass spins so fast I feel as if I could be catapaulted right off into space and never be seen again, but eventually it slows down enough to let me grab the dial and stop for a second and remind myself why I do this, and for whom.

That gravelly-voiced teenager on the telephone is mine; the same child who enchanted me with his giggle as a baby and charmed me with his wit as a grade schooler and now as a young man struggles to get people, even me, to like him in crazy, desperate ways he shouldn't have to try. I forget that sometimes.

I don't have to like him every day; I'm sure he doesn't like me all the time. In fact, I am almost sure of it. A little moral guidance for us both, today.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Been to AKontheGO Lately?

Hey readers, don't forget to wander over to our family travel web site and blog, AKontheGO once in a while.

We've got plenty of interesting information for families traveling to the 49th state, plus a wonderful gallery of photos.

So stop on by and take a gander...you'll be glad you did!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Doing it for a Pal in the Army

Well, that pal's family, at least. Here are the youngest members with my Bear on a hike we took yesterday in the Campbell Tract of trails near both our homes. Cute kids, yes?

I received one of my many weekly updates from Alyeska Resort around 9 p.m. last night announcing Military Appreciation Day for all active-duty personnel and their families. Normally I am not a playing-hooky sort of person, but a free day of skiing, plus rentals and lunch thrown in seemed a bit too good to pass up for my friend J and her boys, both of whom have been bugging her relentlessly to do some skiing. J's husband is an Army Chaplain currently serving in Iraq, and the guys really, really miss doing outdoor father-son stuff together. So I thought a day away at a ski resort would be just the ticket.

I offered to watch her daughter (Bear's Girlie) and another child J keeps after preschool, she packed some snacks and the outdoor gear, fueled up the Suburban, and off they went. The boys so far are enjoying an afternoon of ski lessons while J is recharging her mom-batteries in the presence of gorgeous scenery.

Conversely, the scenery is less than gorgeous at my house, where three preschoolers have taken possession of the downstairs, removing every single dress-up item from its trunk and using every last sticker from the art box. Oh well, at least they are busy and the stickers are going on their intended paper targets. Two of three children ate lunch, but now all are snacking on popcorn and avoiding the dog while watching Pocahontas since the one child who did not eat lunch began whining she was hungry and well, you know what that led to...

It feels good to give J and the boys a day away together while Chaplain T is still in Baghdad. We're making them some spaghetti for dinner, too, just so she has a full day of non-mothering duties.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

From the Wolf Den: The Village People

I've always considered myself to be an "I can do it myself" sort of gal. I'll read up, I'll listen, I'll observe, but when it comes right down to it, I like to tackle things on my own. This stubborn streak of rabid independence bodes well for things like hiking or skiing and sometimes writing, but not so much when it comes to parenting a child with a disability, I've found out.

The hardest, most agonizing realization I had to make as a mother was the smack-in-my-face concept of the Village; for my sanity, for my health, and for that of my child. Sometimes we all need other people, and the Village was my sanctuary of support, and only now am I recognizing the hundreds of individuals who provide it through physical care, emotional (and sometimes literal) hand-holding, paperwork and phone call-making, long-distance calling, and spiritual direction.

Many of these individuals I have never met in person, some I interact with every single day, many are people who are stalwart figures in my past but not in my present; all are part of the Village.

Wolf needs a village, that much is certain. If one looks at how small communities exist in remote parts of Alaska and the world, the concept of villages raising children is not new. Every single child has adult supervision all day (we hope), be it through the elderly who watch kids when parents are doing tasks outside the boundaries of home, or parents of friends, or relatives, or teachers; many, many people are involved. They are everybody's children, all the time, and the success or failure of a child belongs to the entire population.

Parents of disabled children need the Village. We need to know there are other people who will step in with confidence when we cannot. People to scrape our emotions from the floor when we have reached the ultimate in rock bottom and feel we could not possibly deal with this child for one more minute. We have to have people to care for our other children when we have appointments, or conference calls, or school district meetings, or just taking a nap. Even the people who are not physically around Wolf or Yukon and Bear and I on a daily basis still make a difference. Praying, pondering, or writing a note; it all matters.

We're nearing a summit with Wolf; coming closer to the day when we will have to decide what, where, and how we will support his needs into adulthood.

The Village is ready. They told me so.

What a concept.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We'll Miss Dan'l Boone

If there were any better heroes for a little boy than Daniel Boone or Davey Crockett, aka Fess Parker, I sure didn't know about it.

Bear heard the theme song to one of Disney's most famous frontier men playing on NPR during dinner. His ears perked up and he said "Who put on my CD?" Yukon and I looked at each other and knew. Fess Parker passed away today at age 85, leaving behind a legacy of calm resiliance combined with tough trapper attitude.

I am so glad generations of little boys (and girls, too) were able to grow up knowing about men who "killed him a bar when he was only three", or who was a "big, big man, with an eye like an eagle...".

The photo above shows Bear dressed up like Daniel Boone for Halloween 2008. We attended a special concert at our downtown performing arts center, and every person over 40 knew who he was. It was the gun that gave him away. Extra points if you know the name...

Godspeed, Fess Parker. From the kids who learned how to wrassle and wrangle but still ultimately rely on diplomacy to accomplish things.

That's What I'm Talking About

St. Patrick's Day corned beef made Yukon one happy camper. He should be Irish. Shame that he's not.

Only kink in our life of comfort right now is lack of appropriate caffeination. Our faithful coffeemaker shuddered and quit last week, so I dug out the camping pot for some "cowboy coffee". Not great, but it'll do, and the sound of the percolater is sort of comforting in the morning. No timer, though, so we have to (gasp) make it each morning instead of the night before.

The yellow tulips are my annual attempt at adding color, any color, to our world. March and April can be varying shades of gray, brown, and dull, dull, dull, so yellow is my favorite "Break Up" color.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We Go Way Up North

I love my work, for it allows the AK Fam many and varied opportunities to explore a state few manage to cover in the typical week's visit. Last weekend Bear, Yukon and I had the chance to fly up to Fairbanks for a weekend of dog sledding, ice carving, and hot spring-soaking, thanks to the folks at the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The weather was glorious; not too chilly with highs near 20 during the day and dropping down to a balmy -15 at night. Not too bad for the Interior. Bear, in his usual whirlwind fashion, managed to recreate himself nearly to death, trying every activity with gusto and then crashing hard at night.

The Ice Carving Championships were something, too. We attended at night, when sculptures were lit by multicolored lights and doubly fun for Bear to slide down the kid-friendly carvings and even lead me through an ice maze.

We're going to go back this summer, probably for the Tanana Valley Fair in August. There's much more to see and many more places to go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Asperger's Gets Weekly Attention by Network

Well, just look at that. My son's Asperger Syndrome has reached the pinnacle of awareness by the producers of NBC's new weekly drama, 'Parenthood' . A Brian Graser/Ron Howard project, the show is supposed to chronicle the ups and downs and in-betweens of a large and somewhat dysfunctional Berkeley family.

I like Brian Graser and I've been in love with Ron Howard ever since the 'Andy Griffith' days, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to watch the pilot. The Asperger thing caught me by surprise, though. One of the family's sons is himself father to an elementary-aged boy who wears a pirate costume every day and seems rather disjointed with respect to the rest of the family. He hates sports, endures his Grandpa, played by Craig T. Nelson, who keeps telling him to "man up", and can't seem to get things together in the classroom. Poor Max.

Whoa! All of a sudden the kid is jumping a peer in the classroom who made fun of his costume, bites him on the arm, and whomp; here are mom and dad in the principal's office talking about his expulsion from school and a referral to what the principal calls an "education specialist". Ah-hah. Dad goes into defensive freak-out mode, mom cringes in the corner, and both shut down emotionally as they shuttle their unapologetic vagrant down the steps and to his room at home.

Long story short; mom calls the specialist, the specialist meets the kid and says she thinks he has AS. Both parents fall apart and, relational to my own world, Dad enters his "just-fix-it" world, where he questions, ponders, and offers a tutor to help his son catch up to the rest of the kids. By the end of the pilot episode, Dad has seen some of Max's behavior objectively and lays it all out for his father, Go-To Grandpa. We can see an exciting season ahead of Asperger Syndrome drama, can't we?

I was a unsure of NBC's ability to put such a confusing, very unique disorder on national television and try to make it understandable to the masses. After all, AS is so different for every child it is hard to pin down a broad-brush definition for an actor.

Last week, though, one scene caught my eye and made me think that perhaps this AS theme could work. The family is sitting down to dinner, and mom, dad, and big sister are watching Max pick at his food because it is not a mixture of his "favorites" and he won't eat things that are unfamiliar. He just wants to watch TV. His parents engage in an argument with him about "TV Time" and how many bites he must eat. Dad has had enough, tells him that he gets five minutes on the TV for every bite he eats. HAHAHAHA. I know already what will happen, and sure enough, Max eats 15 bites and earns 75 minutes of television time, way over his allotted daily allowance. He then gets up and leaves to go reap his reward. Dad tells him he has to wait until everyone is finished. What does Max say? "You didn't say that; all you said was I had to eat my dinner."

Uh huh. This could definitely work. Welcome to my world, NBC. Hope we'll see Max's parents going gray and losing weight and sucking down margaritas with desperate abandon as the season goes on. Then I might believe you know what you are doing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Well, Here We Are Again...

I would imagine that reading about our winter weather is as tedious as living it, but the depth and breadth of stormy weather remains sort of newsworthy. Plus, the photos are cool.

Yukon woke me up this morning around 5:30 to tell me that it was "really snowing outside". Whatever. This is Alaska, and it snows all the time, even in March. He woke me up again about 20 minutes later to say that there was a winter storm warning due to hazardous driving conditions and blowing snow. Hmmm, this was a bit more interesting, so I dragged to the window and looked out. What met my eyes was a cacophony of snow; blowing snow, drifting snow, and rapidly falling snow. So much snow, in fact, that I worried about Yukon's departure for his morning swim (nixed that), and my afternoon radio program.

The newspaper never showed up, and I had received my morning cup of coffee, so all that remained was to saddle up and try and dig the family out of igloo-ness, at least so the dog could navigate the back steps and go outside.

The snow kept falling as I dug my way down the deck stairs and out into the backyard, creating a Trail of Necessity for you-know-who, and then tried to open the back gate to the front. Nope. I clumped up the stairs in my Yak Trax (spikey things I put on the bottom of my rubber boots to keep from slipping) and across the new laminate flooring and around to the front door.

Met with blowing snow sifting into the entryway, I yelled at Yukon to be sure and lock the door behind me, and began the process all over again, this time to at least reach the Expedition at the far end of the driveway.

Eventually Yukon realized he would not have to rush this a.m., and with the two of us rigged out in boots, Carhartts, and snow attire, we managed to unearth the big truck and most of the Old Betsy Explorer, who will be pressed into service today to hopefully aid in my appearance on Alaska Travelgram's afternoon radio show. Yukon departed for the office and I went inside to eat and refortify my caffeine intake.

About an hour ago, my neighbor showed up with his snowblower, and we finished the driveway, started Old Betsy, and managed in the process to bury the South Neighbor's Kia Sportage (I know you are reading this, Neighbors, so don't worry; we'll dig you out later, this was an emergency). The sun tried coming out for a while, but now at Noon the snow has returned with a vengance.

At least on the radio no one can see me in my foul weather gear. But then, this is Alaska, isn't it? No one really cares. Least of all me, at this point.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Doggone Good Weekend

Another Iditarod sled dog race is on the move to Nome, Alaska, and another Monday-after has arrived during which time I try to recover from a weekend of hiking, writing, and photographing team after team of incredible athletes. Whew.

Complicating matters is the interesting Ceremonial vs. Official starts to the race; one on Saturday so all the fans can meet and greet mushers, take pictures, and enjoy a big block party on Fourth Avenue in downtown Anchorage. The Official "Restart" takes place on Sunday up in Willow, Alaska, on a frozen Willow Lake where the stakes are high, tensions are higher, and the teams just want to get the heck away from the hubbub of the media and hoardes. This year I got to attend both.

On Saturday, the fam packed up and drove a short distance to Campbell Creek Science Center, a group to which I belong as a board member, and watched the start from their fab indoor/outdoor facility. Bear and his friend Cady played in the trees, making imaginary forts and houses among the spruce boughs while the grownups watched teams silently slide by. Only a little snow fell and temps were rather mild, making the day a pleasant one. The Center offered snacks, crafts, and a bunch of information on the race itself, and we really enjoyed talking with the crowds of people.

On Sunday, I trailed along with Salmonberry Tours to the Restart. SBT is a contingent of great women who have taken a small tour company to new heights with their attention to detail, friendly faces, and incredibly accommodating style. We arrived shortly afte 9 a.m. to prepare a tent for 30 incoming guests and to set up a delicious spread of food. Bear and Yukon decided to stay home for this one, a good idea since this day is less about kids and more about the race.

The sun was shining, the wind was down, and we had a prime spot for an assault to the senses as chili bubbled on our stove, dogs shrieked and yelped, and teams streaked past on their way to a long, tough journey ahead. Denali silently stood sentry from an aloof distance to the North through all the commotion, and I wonder if she (the mountain) was a bit disgusted by the hooplah.

I visited with many of the Salmonberry guests, most of whom were from far, far away. The trip to see the Iditarod was a dream come true for many; including a 70 year-old woman from Florida. She said the Discovery channel was the closest she'd ever been to a sled dog before this trip, and it was "magical".

Sure is. Sometimes we need other people to remind us of our good fortune.

You can follow the 2010 Iditarod sled dog race through the link above for Iditarod.com; daily updates will be posted and interesting facts about the race. Look for Zack Steer, our friend from Sheep Mountain Lodge, to be a real contender this year to champ Lance Mackey.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Wake Up Call

Nothing like waking up to the house shaking. With all the earthquakes occuring around the world, this was our first thought. But no, it was just the wind.

Those of you from the upper reaches of states like Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Montana will know what I am talking about. The Chinook; that crazy, wild, warm wind that blows and blows until you think it can't blow any harder. Then it blows some more.

The strangest part about a Chinook is its warmth. It feels soft on your cheek even as it tries to tear the clothes off your body and throws everything from under the deck around the neighborhood (yes, we have an assortment of items under our deck. From sleds to shovels to dog bones, it's all there).

Since we live against the Chugach mountains at a curve where two peaks meet and slope down toward our home, we are the lucky beneficiaries of all sorts of weather patterns. Usually the Weather Service can predict and warn before the blowing begins, and in this case they were right on.

I do hope they are wrong about the windspeed, however. The report was for gusts of 90 mph.
The photo above is the view from my office on a tranquil day. This morning I can't even see the trees across the street for the blowing, drifting, spinning snow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Let's Talk, or Not

The most inspiring part of parenting a child with a behavior disorder is the support from other moms and dads facing similar situations. Usually my relationships with these people are built after a non-related meeting at which time somebody brings up the fact that they have a child with such-and-such, or so-and-so, and my jaw drops and I say with tears in my eyes, "Me, too." It never fails to amaze me how often I assume the role of victim without ever considering the thousands upon thousands of other parents who engage in the same daily struggle, or more so.

Today I met with such a friend, mom to two children, one with similar issues to Wolf and also dealing with her own painful and debilitating health problems. She wanted to talk about well-meaning family members of friends who offer their, um, opinions within the realm of our children's conditions. From physicians to pharmacies, discipline to daydreaming, everybody has a viewpoint, and this mom was at her wit's end.

It is hard to comment on responses and questions from other family members or friends because on one hand we have received so much positive support from both that any suggestion to the contrary might be construed as negative on my part. But on the other hand, I think any mother or father who has been inundated with comments by well-meaning people naive to particular, and private information surrounding a child would agree with me when I say there are certain things that are better left unsaid. Let this disclaimer be known: None of the following are from any member of my friends or family unit. Thank you.

Those things?

"Are you sure?" No. I am not sure. There are, in fact, days when I am unsure about many things concerning my children, not the least of which concerns a diagnosis of one child. But I have to start somewhere for some semblance of security in our family's world. Nobody's socks would match otherwise.

"Have you tried a non-medication route?" Yes. We have. We have also padlocked the cupboards, hidden the sugar, and buried our money in the backyard. These strategies, along with the Hair Club For Moms and Dads of Behaviorally Challenged Children have served to remind us that medication works for our child. End of story.

"I talked with Mrs. Busybody, and she said that her daughter-in-law's cousin's nephew had Asperger's (or OCD, or PPD, etc) and they found a great doctor in Topeka. Why don't you call them?" Thank you for your concern, and for your interest. We know that AS (etc.) affects many, many people. We also are quite satisfied with our physician and services, but we'll keep that name on file in case we need it later.

"I looked up AS (etc.) on the internet." Oy. Did you know you can also find a recipe to cure autism, too? Or how about a magic spell to wave over our child in his sleep? Please, please, use the internet sparingly. Except to read my blog, of course.

Finally, here is my favorite:

"You never want to talk to me about so-and-so anymore!" You know, I talk about so-and-so all the time; to health professionals, to case workers, to teachers, and to my spouse. Sometimes when I call you I want desperately to talk about something, anything else. This does not mean I consider you "out of the loop", on the contrary, it means I consider you so special that you get to listen to me talk about moose poop on the trail or the state of affairs in Bolivia. Anything so that I don't have to talk in acronyms or dollar signs or case numbers.

I love you all. Really, I do.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Little Bit of Everything...

A 15-bean soup day; that's what I'm calling it. Finishing up the last of the flooring fiasco (only the stairs left), working on multiple, yet small, writing projects that together mean more time than I have, and going for a short hike with Bear this afternoon. A little bit of everything.

Anchorage schools take "spring break" next week, a term we do not take seriously for it seems incredibly cruel to look out the window and refer to March as "spring". At least the gray of winter takes on a new glow by 9 a.m. as the sun rises over the mountains, the birds sing, and the smell of wet spruce wins out over salt and sand. Took the dog for a run this morning and we saw a pair of eagles perched in the top of a cottonwood tree, chortling at us as we jogged into their space.

Bear and I took a quick hike down to a local bog to get some fresh air and explore this little-used circle of wilderness just a short drive from the house. My friend had not been, so we bundled up the kids and ambled our way around Baxter Bog, a distance of a mile or so once all the roundabout trails had been taken. We didn't see any moose, but evidence of their nocturnal snacking was all around us in the form of nubby shrubs along the pathway. Bear likes to lead, usually with a big stick to ward off any offending creatures and someday I'm sure I will appreciate his assertiveness. He also likes to explore what lies beneath ice, and spent quite a bit of time looking under a shallow bridge for signs of life.

Wolf called tonight to tell us he made Trainee level at school in what he refers to as a "close call". Kids evaluate each other and give feedback, something Wolf has never been partial to receiving but always giving in an interesting twist to Asperger's and teenagers. He sucked it up last night, apparently, and now is a Trainee going for his Apprentice Red. He sounded really, really positive and hardly griped at all about, well, anything. A pack of graph paper to that kid!

Yukon and I are revelling in our almost-organized living room with the absence of a table saw that almost made history as the most obnoxious piece of furniture. It is now relegated to the garage and once the stairs are done, we will be too.
A very diverse Monday.